Feature: Draft Watch – Jon Finkel and Josh Ravitz

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The letter J!on Finkel is a Hall of Fame Magic player who needs no introduction, towing along fellow New Yorker Josh Ravitz for the weekend. Ravitz, no slouch himself with a U.S. Nationals Top 8 as well as two Grand Prix Top 8s, benefits from Jon's status as a HOFer, allowing him to auto-qualify for the event simply by finagling his way in as Jon's teammate. In typical champion fashion, the duo ran their first table on their way to a 2-0 start, and the opportunity to glimpse the possible return of the Jon Finkel of yore was too much for the coverage team to pass up. Finkel and Ravitz were definitely the draft to watch.

Things started off quickly as Jon, the dominant head and holder-of-the-booster, shuffled from the front of the pack to the back in a few nanoseconds. He highlighted the two cards he was interested in, Lightning Axe and Urborg Syphon-Mage, leaving a Strength in Numbers in the pack, but checked for Josh's approval before placing them face down. The picks were fine with Josh, and they moved to pick two.

Things proved to be a bit trickier the second time as they had to choose between Gorgon Recluse, Looter il-Kor, Coal Stoker, and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. Jon liked the blue card while Josh favored the Acid-Moss and after a brief conference over the applications of the Recluse and Stoker, they decided to stick with their initial impulse. Pick 3 offered up more for consideration and was the first real test for the duo: Yavimaya Dryad, Jolrael, Empress of Beasts, Dream Stalker, and Viscerid Deepwalker. Finkel managed a double take at the Jolrael, which can animate the lands of either you or your opponent, but it was the Dream Stalker of all things which was the first card placed face down. They examined the Dryad and Deepwalker a bit closer, but Jon seemed intent on the legend and eventually she was added to their decks.

Pick 4 was a very fast choice of Vesuva and a second Dream Stalker with only a slight glance at Wormwood Dryad. It was very evident the teammates gelled well with one another and trusted each other's opinions as they quickly agreed on nearly all of their picks. The first Time Spiral pack was rounded out with a Snapback and Lotus Bloom, Gorgon Recluse and Two-Headed Sliver, Ironclaw Buzzardiers and Barbed Shocker, and finally Ground Rift.

During review it was difficult to tell what direction the two were headed in (though it was only the first pack of six). They had a solid blue base behind their Dream Stalkers and Looter, but from there nothing else had really developed. Lightning Axe and Syphon-Mage stood out, and the Acid-Moss indicated a preference for green, but nothing was laid down in cement just yet.

Time Spiral booster 2 started off with a Thornscape Battlemage being turned face up, and it was Josh's turn to raise an eyebrow. They thumbed through the rest of the pack to see a Might Sliver and Rift Bolt, quickly pulling the Bolt into their pile. Jon shot a plaintive look Josh's way over the Might Sliver, but Josh quickly selected the Battlemage as their pick, and Jon offered no resistance. Pick two saw them eye Herd Gnarr, Gorgon Recluse, Looter il-Kor, a third Dream Stalker, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, and Telekinetic Sliver. Jon pointed out the Telekinetic in particular, possibly pining over the missed opportunity to nab the Might Sliver, but Ravitz was intent on what they'd already been drafting. He indicated the Dream Stalker and the Looter, and they opted to take both, bringing them up to 3 Stalkers and 2 Looters and further increasing the strength of their blue deck.

An Amrou Scout was staring back at them after they rifled through the cards for Pick 3, and Finkel immediately took notice. Ravitz was busier looking at a Might of Old Krosa, but Finkel also pointed at a Screeching Sliver and Savage Thallid. Ravitz wanted nothing to do with the 5/2, and laid down the law:

Josh: "It's either Sliver or Might."

Jon shrugged and took the Sliver. Pick four offered up another Amrou Scout and a Trespasser il-Vec, but Jon noticed a Whispers of the Muse sitting in the back of the pack. Perhaps a bit nostalgic for his dominating days in which he utilized a Forbidian deck that relied on the buyback draw spell, Jon gave it a second glance. Josh didn't approve, however, and they stuck with the Rebel and the Shadow creature. Their tabled pack left them with a quick decision of Mwonvuli Acid-Moss and Coral Trickster before rounding out Time Spiral with Ivory Giant/Plunder, Aspect of Mongoose/Truth or Tale, and Sangrophage.

During the review it seemed apparent that Josh and Jon weren't set on a particular series of color archetypes just yet. They had a focus on blue and green, but had dipped into white, black, and red. It seemed possible that their blue and green cards could serve as the base for two different decks, though which colors would be joining those two in support remained to be seen.

The first Planar Chaos pack yielded a Wild Pair for the rare as well as some juicy commons and uncommons. Rathi Trapper, Ovinize, Pongify, Erratic Mutation, and Whitemane Lion all received some attention, but Jon was immediately drawn to the expensive enchantment. Perhaps he was hoping to replicate Guillaume Wafo Tapa's recent success with the card at Grand Prix-Montreal?

Josh wasn't so keen on that idea, however, and he gravitated towards the Rathi Trapper and Whitemane Lion. The Trapper had obvious synergy with their two Amrou Scouts, but Finkel didn't seem to care for Whitemane Lion, at least not so early in the pack. They went back and forth between Jon's top choices of Ovinize and Wild Pair and Josh's Trapper and Whitemane before finally compromising on Trapper and Wild Pair. It was interesting to note that after their initial inspection, they didn't give the Erratic Mutation so much as a second glance before making their final choices.

Pick 2 went quickly as they took a Mire Boa and Saltfield Recluse, though Jon did point out how good a Big Game Hunter still in the pack could be. The third pick took a bit more discussion with a Treacherous Urge, Magus of the Library, Veiling Oddity, and Evolution Charm. Jon immediately placed the Magus into their pile, but the second pick took a bit longer. Ultimately they opted for the Veiling Oddity, though not until after discussing both the Urge and the Charm.

Their first Magus was joined by a second in their next set of picks, though this time it was of the "Tabernacle" variety. They also selected a Citanul Woodreaders to ensure seven cards in the hand of the green player whenever possible, and did so at the expense of passing a Hedge Troll. The picks from there descended into your usual assortment of end-of-pack also-rans and included Primal Plasma/Skirk Shaman and Brain Gorgers/Vitaspore Thallid.

This time during the review they separated their stack into two potential decks: a black-white deck and a green-blue deck with a touch of red. A Whitemane Lion would be a nice match with the Wild Pair, but so far they hadn't managed to pick any up, though they would be heading into the final Planar Chaos pack with slightly clearer goals in mind.

The pack they opened was a pretty spicy number offering up Frozen Aether, Sunlance, Essence Warden, Dead // Gone, Giant Dustwasp, and Boom // Bust. The timeshifted Kismet was quickly added to their pile, but second card was not an immediate decision. Initially they included Sunlance, going so far as to separate it from the rest of the pack, but at the last minute they opted to switch it out for Dead // Gone, perhaps looking to use red as a splash color for removal. The second pick was a pretty silent affair, and Jon quickly nabbed a Whitemane Lion and Stingscourger. If the 'Scourger wound up splashed into a green-white deck with both Lion and Wild Pair, the duo would be able to threaten some pretty fantastic plays.

The next pick yielded a choice of Mana Tithe, Dreamscape Artist, Blood Knight, Fury Charm, and Pscychotrope Thallid. Ravitz was quick to push for the Tithe, while Jon lingered on the Pscychotrope. In a format in which card advantage can push a team over the top, the Thallid makes for a potentially devastating play, but eventually they opted to take the safer Dreamscape Artist. Pick 4 saw a second Whitemane Lion and Malach of the Dawn join their team without considering any of the other cards in the pack, and they tabled a Dreamscape Artist and Dawn Charm from the pack they had originally opened. Rounding out their picks were a Brain Gorgers, a Fa'adiyah Seer, and a Spellshift.

During review, the decks changed slightly again. The blue-green deck was shaping up nicely, but the black-white deck was starting to undergo some rearranging. So far there were only four black cards in the deck, and with a Dead // Gone and Stingscourger supplementing the Rift Bolt and Lightning Axe they had gotten in Time Spiral, the players had to seriously consider a switch to red-white, possibly splashing the black cards elsewhere. Going into the final set's worth of packs, then, the two players still didn't have their colors nailed down completely, but that didn't look as though it bothered them in the least.

The first Future Sight pack turned out to be a very juicy one, and as Jon shuffled through it he revealed Take Possession, Riddle of Lightning, Death Rattle, Foresee, and Thornweald Archer. The rare and the Rattle were the first two cards that jumped to the forefront, but Jon was slow to set them down. For what seemed like the millionth time during the draft he gave pause to look at the card advantage card in the form of Foresee, but Ravitz, also for the millionth time, intervened and pushed for the Death Rattle. Finkel quickly gave in and they passed the rest of the cards on.

Unfortunately the second set of picks wasn't quite as deep, though the players did find four cards they were interested in: Deepcavern Imp, Llanowar Empath, Grinning Ignus, and Lumithread Field. The Imp was the mopiest card of the bunch and quickly got pushed to the back. With the choices narrowed to three, it quickly became evident that the combo-engine Ignus was most likely not going to make the cut. While the card could potentially be very explosive with something like Empty the Warrens or Grapeshot, the players hadn't had the fortune of opening either of those and opted for the morph and the elf instead.

Up next was a quick grab of Bonded Fetch and Grave Scrabbler, followed by a Mass of Ghouls and Minion's Murmurs, though Jon did pause to examine a Tolaria West. Presumably his interest in the card was as a mana fixer for the blue-green deck, enabling them to search up their splash land for a low investment of just 1 ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana, but Ravitz made it clear he preferred the black cards instead. On the way back around, their original pack returned a Lumithread Field and a Leaden Fists over a Henchfiend of Ukor which they would not be able to maximally use due to their color combinations. Rounding out the first pack they added Rift Elemental/Quiet Disrepair, Snake Cult Initiation/Samite Censor Bearer, and a Lost Hours.

This time the deck review got considerably more interesting. They re-shifted their decks dramatically, creating a white-green list with the Vesuva, Wild Pair, and Whitemane Lions and left themselves with a red-blue-black deck able to splash easily thanks to the dubs Dreamscape Artists they had picked up in Planar Chaos and looking to abuse Grave Scrabbler with all of the blue madness enablers and Dream Stalkers.

The final pack of both Future Sight and the draft yielded the choice of Whip-Spine Drake, Llanowar Empath, Lucent Liminid, Flowstone Embrace, or Mass of Ghouls. After looking through those cards, the two players quickly opted to take the Drake and the Liminid, shoring up their air force. The second pick centered around Festering March, Aven Augur, Gathan Raiders, Delay, Augur of Skulls, and Thornweald Archer. The Archer was quickly shuffled to the back, with the focus centering around the March and the two Augurs. Eventually they decided the black Augur was the superior pick and added it to their pile in addition to the March.

Pick three didn't offer up very much of interest initially as they cycled through and found a Cloudseeder and Grave Scrabbler to their liking. However, as they got closer to the back, a Storm Entity poked its head up from the pack and Jon and Josh both quickly agreed on taking that instead of the Seeder. The final pick before packs started returning was between a Lumithread Field, Boldwyr Intimidator, and yet another Grave Scrabbler, which was quickly placed face down. Josh immediately pushed for their third copy of Lumithread, but Finkel wasn't so sure. After double-checking the Intimidator to make sure it wasn't what he wanted, he added yet another copy of the creature/enchantment to their pile.

The remainder of the Future Sight picks were relatively uneventful, though at one point the pair stopped to read what Bridge from Below did, making sure all that text on it didn't amount to a memo they had missed (they quickly verified it did not).

As they moved back to their player meeting seats to sort, it quickly became apparent that simply qualifying your friend for the Pro Tour by agreeing to attend with them did not mean you weren't responsible for helping do menial tasks during the deck building process. While Josh would be doing the writing, former World Champion Finkel handled all the sorting, quickly distributing the cards into three piles, one each for Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight.

Once they had finished registering the pool they set to work on building their actual decks. A green-white list with Whip-Spine Drake materialized, then a blue-black madness list splashing red that abused Grave Scrabbler synergies with madness enablers and Dream Stalkers. That particular deck looked to have very solid potential with numerous enablers including 2 Looter il-Kor, 2 Dreamscape Artists, Trespasser il-Vec, Lightning Axe, Urborg Syphon-Mage, even an Augur of Skulls if need be. Ultimately, however, they decided to cut the number of Dream Stalkers from three down to two.

The green-white list looked to possibly splash red as well but was almost as equally synergistic between Whitemane Lion, Wild Pair, and even a Mantle of Leadership able to do nutty things with the aforementioned combo. A grand total of 3 Lumithread Fields were also present, but with too many playables available, Ravitz eventually had to cut one from the deck. In addition, he also had to cut both Amrou Scouts for room, though he wasn't happy about it.

With solid cores built, the players began to haggle respectfully over the details. Neither was sure which deck would benefit the most from which red cards. Josh had a Thornscape Battlemage they wanted full usage out of while Jon had a Lightning Axe that worked well as a madness enabler. He also had 2 Dreamscape Artists for color fixing while Ravitz had only a Vesuva. They discussed cutting Storm Entity to make enough room, then discussed moving it to Josh's deck so he could tutor it up with Wild Pair, opening up the possibility of more blowouts from the enchantment. When it was pointed out that Magus of the Library was the only card Josh was playing with the power/toughness ratio to actually tutor it up, they both quickly deduced Saltfield Recluse on any creature with combined power and toughness of 4 would also do it, and the Entity was moved to Josh's stack, then eventually cut.

The end result of their hard teamwork:


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